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Retail Projects Vie For Cinemas Northtown Joins River Park Square, Spokane Valley Mall In Courting Movie Screens

Someone had better pop a lot of popcorn.

Three of Spokane’s largest retail developments want to add multiplexes, which would increase the number of movie screens in Spokane County by 50 to 60 in the next few years.

At the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas this week, Seattle-based Sabey Corp. is displaying expansion plans for NorthTown which include a 20-plex cinema.

NorthTown’s plans are a sequel to recent announcements by the mall’s major competitors.

JP Realty Inc. of Salt Lake City has announced plans for a 12- to 16-screen cinema complex to be included in the first phase of the Spokane Valley Mall, due to open in August 1997 at Sullivan and Interstate 90.

Owners of downtown’s River Park Square announced plans in March for a 20-plex cinema as part of the shopping area’s redevelopment. Construction is planned to begin on that project in 1997.

Laurent Poole, Sabey’s executive vice president, said Tuesday that NorthTown is negotiating with four different cinema companies but has not closed a deal.

None of the developers has revealed the cinema companies they are working with. But they likely are competing with one another to convince the handful of major players in the industry that their project has the best chance for success.

If more than one of the proposals comes to fruition, it likely would bring competition for ACT III cinemas, which operates the vast majority of the movie houses in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

The rush by Spokane retail developers to add movie screens is part of a broader trend.

Ensuring that shoppers are entertained when they visit a mall is a necessity recognized by developers and retailers nationwide. Increasing numbers of stores have interactive components, such as sporting goods stores where customers can shoot baskets or housewares stores where customers can take cooking classes.

New mall projects almost always include a cinema, and old malls that do not include cinemas are looking to add them.

“Shopping centers have always been entertainment,” said a panelist at a convention seminar Monday on entertainment and retailing.

“There’s a real need to intensify (consumers’) experience when they go out,” said John Ward of Communications Arts Inc. of Boulder, Colo.

It’s that need to satisfy more of the shoppers’ needs that’s driving NorthTown to consider including a movie theater. Sabey has been approached by cinema companies in the past, Poole said, but never has been interested.

“We changed our mind,” Poole said. “We want to be able to offer the complete shopping experience.

“What we’re trying to do is tie a bow around the entire package.”

A Bon Marche housewares store and a bookstore - developers are negotiating with Barnes & Nobles and Borders Books - also are included in the proposed expansion.

The bookstore and housewares store would share space in The Bon’s current spot when the retailer moves to its new site, to be built at Division and Wellesley. The new space will double The Bon’s size to 130,000 square feet.

The bookstore probably will include a cafe with extended hours to cater to the cinema-going crowd, Poole said.

Construction should begin on the project in 1997, expanding the mall to 1.2 million square feet.

There’s no signed deal with a bookstore, Poole said, but Sabey has a letter of intent from The Bon to add the housewares store.

Increased parking also is part of the expansion plan, with a parking garage scheduled to be built along Division north of The Bon’s proposed new site. The garage will boost the mall’s capacity to 5,300 parking spaces.

, DataTimes

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